The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

The Road to Durban -Part II

Calling Time on Cross Country

Start of Master's Cross Country 2018 - From Brian Howie

Start of the master’s cross country championships – courtesy of Brian Howie.

After a decent marathon a few weeks ago, I went into the Scottish Masters Cross Country Championships in buoyant mood, thinking I am in half decent shape, not at the top, but getting there.  If the cross country course suits me, I could have a decent run out and I can’t say that for many cross country races I have done over the years.  I have a love hate relationship with cross country.  Essentially, I love it.  It is raw sport.  In Scotland most cross country races are in real fields and more wilder areas than you see around the rest of the world where parkland seems to be the norm.  In Scotland it is rough, sometimes farmland where you are mixing it up where cows or sheep or possible some crops have been for the rest of the year.  This land has usually had the full elements of a Scottish winter applied to it as well, just to add another dimension to how difficult some courses are.  Yesterday was all of that with some ‘obstacles’ thrown in.  For the purists, this was the perfect course, loads of mud, rough, sticky mud, one lad in front of me lost his shoe in the first lap. It had hills, it was on rough farmland, it had fallen trees, tree roots, sharp turns, narrow channels, little sharp inclines.  It was a leg sapping course, probably one of the best ones I have run over.

And I hated every single minute of it.  My frustration at my inability to run on this type of course overflowed yesterday.  Half way into the first short lap (it was one short lap and to long laps that made up the 8k distance) I called time on cross country.  I spent the rest of the race just trying to stay upright, just trying to put one foot in front the other.  I was slipping, sliding and stumbling all over the place, while I watched other seemingly glide through the mud.  Why am I doing this again?  Over the years I can say I’ve had maybe one or two half decent races over the country.  Once at the masters champs in Forres a few years where I was suffering from a virus and still managed a 12th or 13th spot and another at Falkirk nationals in 2009 where I might have finished in the top 70.  Both races were on hard packed, maybe frosty, ground, not too dissimilar to tarmac!  Kilmarnock’s course was the exact opposite, shin deep sludge on winter farmland.  I’ve also been lucky enough to represent my country twice over the cross country for the Scottish Master’s team.  I suspect my selection has been based on road speed than my ability over the country.  Both times have been great experiences despite my poor performances.

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Taking it easier in Dean Park, Kilmarnock – photo taken from Kenny Phillips

After the race, I didn’t wallow in self pity, this is not a self pity blog, this is realism and I was realistic and pragmatic about my next steps:  I was going to put it behind me and get on with training for Comrades, after all, that is the goal for the first half of the year.  Some of my fellow Edinburgh AC lads had great runs, Leon (4th overall) and Chris spring to mind and seemed to enjoy that type of underfoot conditions.  I’m delighted for them, Leon had a great race coming back from a 3 week forced training break due to illness.

When I got back home a looked at my Garmin stats my average HR for the race was 162.  That is low for such a short race, my recent marathon average HR was 164, so it shows the lack of effort in the performance, it should have been in the mid 170’s. Converting that from road paces, I should have been about 30-40 seconds per mile quicker had I got my heart rate up into the mid 170’s.

Speaking about the recent trip down south for the Gloucester marathon.  The idea (if you read my last blog post) was to go down to Gloucester, run a sub 3 and head home.  Most of you will already know that it didn’t quite go as planned.  I felt really good on the day and decided to go out at a comfortable pace.  6 miles went past in 36 minute bang on.  Oops, there goes the plan of a controlled sub 3!  It was a little quicker than I had hoped for, but it was under control.  We hit the first hill and the pace got slowed.  Half way came up at 1:21 and that pace was maintained to the end.  Well nearly the end.  At 24 miles I could see someone closing fast, so I had to dig a little deeper to maintain my pace and was delighted to cross the line first in 2:42.  It was especially pleasing as I could have gotten a few more minutes off that time, if it had been a target race, meaning my fitness is coming back and Paul is slowly getting me into good shape.  There are still 4 months until Comrades, that is a long time in training terms but it means I still have loads more training adaptations to come!

 

The Road to Durban – Part 1

Today is the 13th January 2018 and in 22 weeks I will stick my wee size 8.5s on the start line of, arguably, the world’s biggest and, to some, best ultra marathon.  ‘The Comrades’ this year starts in Pietermaritzburg and proceeds up and down and up and down and down and down again to Durban, some circa 90kms away.  When I think about it, I get a knot in my stomach, like I did just before I got married, or when my kids were born.  Excitement is not a strong enough word,  my anticipation of this race makes me wobble at the knees, which reminds me that I will need to do a lot of work in that area in the next 5 months if my quads are to handle the last, generally, down 40km of the race.  Yes, it’s a “down” year which means there is a net downhill to the race course.  It’s alternated each year with the “up” race which runs in the opposite direction.  You avid ultra runners already know this stuff, right?

I mentioned strength work there, I have joined my new client’s gym and attempted to get back into some gym work last Tuesday.  Just some simple sumo squats with 35kg and pistol squats on the TRX machine.  I was in the gym anyway doing my daily mobility work and thought no time like the present.  Muscles will be stiff for a day or two at the most and I would crack on next week with it.  I was still struggling to get up and down stairs this morning, 4, FOUR, days later.  I am so old.

So, anyway, this is part one of the journey to Durban.  I am on a train somewhere between Penrith and Lancaster as I type this.  I wasn’t going to bother to blog about this, but I am unable to watch my Netflix downloads in the quiet coach without my earphones.  I do have my earphones, but no jack plug adaptor for these new bloody iPhone ear pieces.  Apple, as standard, give you a female jack socket so that you can plug your fancy Dr Dre ear pieces into the iPhone, but don’t give you male adaptor for the Lightening connector so that you can use your Apple phones with other equipment.  You need to buy that of course!  This along with trying to keep my mind off the really obese guy behind me having to use my headrest every time he gets and up and down (which is about every 10 minutes at the moment).  I was almost having a wee nap when my head was pulled back gently and catapulted forward at supersonic speeds as obese guy needed to drain the main vain……again!  There is a lot to be said for first class, but this wasn’t special enough to warrant the additional 200 quid.

“Where are you going?”  Oh, yeah:  I am heading to Gloucester.  Tomorrow is the rescheduled Gloucester half marathon, marathon and 50km.  Comrades has a qualification window regardless of who you are or what you’ve done in the past (I am sure this doesn’t apply to the Elite field).  Each runner is required to run at least a marathon between August 2017 and May 2018 for the 2018 race.  Seeding is based on the time you run on the given distance you choose for qualification.  There are a number of distances that can be used, marathon, 50k, 100k, 100 miles etc.  I have picked the marathon, and picked one early enough in the year so that it is out of the way and I can get back to training on Monday.  I would have gone for one late last year, but I actually don’t think I would have been in shape to run under 3 hours for the marathon.  Let me just say that at 45 year old, lost fitness (due to long term injury) takes an awful long time to come back.  A hell of a lot longer than I remember in my 30’s.  I’ve managed to train regularly since June last year and have been getting help with my training (#teampyllon) since August and I think I am now, just, in the right shape to run a sub 3 marathon. It shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.  It won’t be easy peasy, but it should be comfortable.  I wouldn’t normally toe the line in this current shape for a marathon but I think Paul has me in the right condition to get that qualification time.  There will be no heroics, this is just a train journey down, 2:59, then train back home.  That sub 3 will give me entry into the top tier on the Comrades start line – that is the only goal for tomorrow.

Will Power Isn’t Enough

That’s a negative title for a blog post, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) proposes to avoid using words like isn’t, not, can’t etc.  I have no experience of NLP, I read an article once and remembered that single point. I suspect the premise is not to use negative words in normal conversation or written word in the hope it promotes positivity.  It probably doesn’t scratch the surface on the subject to be fair.  However, this will be a positive post despite the title as it will delve into my recent chapter of the world of ultra trail running.  

The Devil O’ the Highlands is an iconic 42 mile (6000ft of ascent) Scottish ultra that covers the top ‘half’ of the West Highland Way.  99% off road across some of the more rough sections of the whole 95 mile route with, arguably, the toughest climbs and challenging underfoot conditions.  It is a fantastic race organised by the fantastic John Duncan and team.  His races, which also includes the Highland Fling, have a European feel to them, fabulous finishes, pristine organisation and well supported.  They are probably the best ultra’s in the UK (personal opinion).

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On the start line with Gerry.  Thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

 Those who know me, will have noticed a severe lack of racing this year.  A groin injury that first appeared at the River Ayr Race last year came to a head in the wonderful Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra  (I must go back to that one) last October and that kept me out on the injury bench for around 3 months.  A return in the new year only replaced the groin injury with plantar fasciitis.  Man, that is one tough injury to shift, but shift it I did with the help of Ross from Space Clinics in Edinburgh and Lesley, a podiatrist and old school chum at JW Physiotherapy in South Queensferry and I started my come back, ahem, late April only for a slight relapse and some more down time before getting going in May.  Looking back I had about 10 weeks to get ready for the Devil, from zero!  It was only around 3-4 weeks from the Devil that I started to feel a familiar bounce return to my running, the previous 6 weeks being dogged by severe sluggishness.

Preparation could have been better.  Two weeks in the Majorcan sun, eating my own body weight in food, daily, and consuming gallons of local beer had me return to Edinburgh with a small food baby and the running was very sluggish for a couple of weeks.  In the 10 weeks I had built up my long (**actually laughs out loud**) runs to 16 miles and managed one 18 mile run and two 20 mile runs.  It wasn’t enough, but I thought what the heck, let’s do it anyway, even if I have to walk large sections I will push on to the end.

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Coming into Bridge of Orchy with Davie Gow. Davie goes on to taking 5th place in the race.  Thanks to Graeme from Monument Photos

For most who blog, it will be natural to post when inspired or happy, maybe less so when things are not going so well.  It is how social media works, endless posts of wonderful people having wonderful lives.  It can be difficult for most to admit that they were wrong privately, let alone publicise it.  I’m not immune to that, Mrs T can testify!  The truth is, I shouldn’t have toed the line in this race.  Vastly under trained, hugely under prepared and foolish to think that will power, with a little bit of ego mixed in, would get me to the end.  It didn’t and I bailed out at Kinlochleven, 28 miles into the race.  I had problems on the way there, stomach issues at 15 miles meant I spent 10 minutes in the Glencoe checkpoint toilet, my nutritional, sleep and taper approaches to the race should have been different, but at the end of the day, it came down to bad organisation and nowhere near being race primed!

 It wasn’t all bad.  My kit was superb, I don’t have to say that, the ashmei 2 in 1 shorts, classic short sleeve and socks all performed above and beyond, drying out super quickly when I was slowing down or walking and starting to feel a chill.  The zipped neck of the classic short sleeve was a welcome feature for getting a little air in when I heated up and zipping it up when I didn’t, or being attacked by midges!  A number of people complimented how good the kit looks again, which always makes me smile.  Then there was meeting Norrie, a good runner having similar problems to myself on the day.  The chat with Norrie on the way into Kinlochleven, when we were both questioning our running, our motivations, our training, is partly the catylist for this blog post.  I hope it helped Norrie as it certainly helped me.  Also, the 15 miles or so that I ran with Davie Gow, a really top chap and great runner, who went on to finish 5th.  I admired his race planning the preparation and I piggy backed onto his pacing strategy for those miles.  

After 11-12 years of running (as an adult) I love that I am still a student of the sport, I learned some valuable lessons from those guys, from myself and I suspect that will only continue.

A new chapter to my running is coming.  At 45 years old (well in a few weeks anyway) I feel excited about the future as I hook up with someone who really knows their stuff, has a wealth of experience and who I hope can tease out of me the best my body can provide.

Exciting times ahead.

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Coming over the top of the Devil’s Staircase.  Lastly, a huge thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

33 Shake (a gel, sort of)

If you take away the beer, wine, crisps, chocolate and cakes, I have a top notch nutritional approach.  Ok, the beer et al are normally a weekend thing, and strictly only when a big race isn’t coming up.  I guess about a 90/10% split.  That’s 90% of ‘good food’ like whole, fresh unprocessed food stuffs and 10% of awesome foods like beer, wine and chocolate.

When a target, A race is in the calendar and the training approach is worked on, the ‘diet’ is utterly dialled in.  It is difficult to be so strict with myself all year and I allow myself the indulgences when I am not targeting any races.  Mostly to the detriment of my waistline. I am one stubborn and determined egg though and I can switch to super strict quicker than Trump can covfefe!

Race nutrition is still an evolving programme for me.  I’ve tried lots of products over the years.  Many gels have been consumed, many have been binned, and many have been stored at the back of the cupboard for many years.  That has just reminded me to go and clear them out!  Race hydration will always be Tailwind, water and flat coke for that final push.  I will never forget just how good water tasted when I was handed it at mile 50 odd in last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate.  A lot of people talk about coconut water’s thirst quenching abilities, but for me it is just H2O, plain and simple.  Sometimes you just can’t get any better.

I’ve not found that right gel yet, or at least not until now.  I have dabbled with making my own food balls and they would be fine if you are racing where drop bags are available or checkpoints but if it is self supported and you have to carry all your food then those home made ‘power’ balls can end up home made ‘power’ crumbs after bobbling about in a race vest.  I took my spirulina balls with me last Monday (29th May 2017) on the run in the Scottish mountains.  Their binding agent is coconut oil, which when cold is solid, but put it in your hands and it quickly becomes liquid.  Well after 3 hours of running, your back gives off a lot of heat and when I took the spirulina balls out of the bag, they reminded me of an ectoplasm residue!  I am still working on the recipe for these, so if anyone out there can provide a stable binding agent, that is whole, unrefined and doesn’t taste like kak, I am all ears.  Maybe I should tweet Trump and ask when he puts in his Barnet?

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The Gel

A few months ago, I had acquired a few chia seed ‘gels’ by a company called 33 Shake.  I’d listened to the company founder, Warren Pole, on the Trail Runner Nation podcast many months ago.  If you haven’t listened to the padcast, go do it, really fun show and they have lots of great guests.  Warren is charismatic guy and, like almost all company founders, believe their products to be the best on the market.  The all natural, mostly organic ingredients list pleased my inner healthy living being.  They come as a dry gel, sounds like an oxymoron, but they are dry ingredients that you have to add some water to.

The Back of the Pack

The ingredients are:

  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Madagascan vanilla
  • Himalayan Pink Salt

The nutritional profile of a single gel pack is

  • Calories – 90
  • Protein – 2.2g
  • Carbs – 11.2g
  • Sugars – 6g
  • Fat – 4g
  • Saturated Fat – 0.4g
  • Fibre – 5g
  • Iron – 1.1mg
  • Sodium – 17.6mg
  • Potassium – 103mg
  • Calcium – 1.1mg

They don’t pack as many calories as some other gels on the market, or indeed a Tailwind stick pack, but I wouldn’t just use these gels, I would always be looking at other products like Tailwind or real food to compliment.  The pink rock salt is a good additive.  Table salt is just sodium chloride, highly refined and virtually no nutritional value.  The Himalayan salt on the other hand also has potassium, magnesium, calcium, oxygen and hydrogen in very small amounts, but not insignificant amounts that may well help you in times of stress i.e. like an ultra marathon.

Usage Instructions

The suggestion on the pack is that you should add water, coconut water or fruit juice (!!!) and do this up to 24 hours prior to using them.  I suppose so that you don’t need to put water in them when you are out on the course.  As it was, I was running with a flask of water in my race vest, so decided to fill the gels on the hoof.  I have to say that was a little fiddly and a little messy.  It didn’t help having the Ultimate Direction bottles.  One squeeze of them and water fires out the spout like a fire hose!!  On future runs, or races, I will definitely be taking the manufacturers advice.  It would also mean they would be ready when you needed them.  Filling them with water as and when you need them, means you have to wait about 10 minutes for the water to be absorbed by the dry contents.  The pack has a tight screw top lid and you need that to enable some vigorous shaking once the chosen liquid is added.  However, when they are ready to be eaten the lid comes off and you are left with an easy ‘spout’ to suck the gel into your mouth.

The Taste

I won’t deny this, I was hesitant to try this gel.  I wanted something sweet and the main content of this gel was going to be chia seeds and water.  I’ve made chia seed slurry as a desert in the past and it is an acquired taste.  The thought of that taste, at that moment in time, brought on a little fear!  As I hiked up the top half of the Devil’s Staircase I got over myself and squeezed the gel into my mouth.  I was hit by this intense sweetness, not an overly sweet taste, like you would get from ‘death by chocolate’ cake, this was pleasant and the consistency was nice.  The overriding flavour is vanilla, which again wasn’t overpowering.   The little chia seeds stuck between my teeth only moved my concentration from the pain of hiking up the Devil’s 1000ft ascent.

Overall

These are very good gels.  Ok they are not, rip it open and consume, but I think the prior arrangement of putting water in them before you head out is minor and won’t stop me using them again in training and racing.  The packaging is completely recyclable as well so there is no need to dump these empty gel packs on the course either!!  You know who you are!  A pack of 10 will cost just under 20 quid, so roughly £2 per gel.  I think you are getting great value for money if you are conscious of what types of food you put in your body.

2 in 1 Shorts by ashmei

I’ve been waiting for it to rain in Scotland.  That seems ironic, waiting for it to rain….in Scotland.  Well it’s true, Edinburgh has had the driest April for some years.  I don’t often welcome the rain, I mean, who does, but the garden certainly needed it, my lack of green digits evident by the browning of the plants and grass.  However, I did welcome it this time as I wanted to give the 2 in 1 shorts a chance in the rain.  I’ve been wearing them non-stop since getting on board as an ambassador with ashmei. 

IMG_3759I always wear an inner compression garment when racing, usually some major branded compression short under whatever short I pick for the race.  The reason, as most ultra runners will know, is to stop chaffing.  However, I have picked up some chaffing from stitched seems on other compression gear.  At last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate 100km, I had chaffing in bits of my body that I thought were impossible.   It turned out that a seemed part of the under garment had moved to a creased area on my body (enough information?) and had caused all manner of chaos down there (definitely enough information).  You could ask Mrs T how the shower went after that race, the screams could probably be heard in Aldbury (ashmei HQ).

As an ultra runner the inner merino compression short is fantastic, there are no seems. Well there are seems of course, but the way they have been stitched essentially hides them.  The merino is light, soft and tight, it fits snuggly, just exactly what a compression garment should do.   The inner isn’t 100% merino, there is some elastane in there to perform as the compression.  It is a genius combination.  As the major component is merino the heat control is fantastic, never overheating and not leaving you chilly either.  I haven’t run 100km in these shorts, yet, but I am extremely confident of how great they will perform when I do.  

The rear pocket is large enough for keys, cards and at a push I could get my iPhone 7 in there when the shorts are off.  It’s little more difficult when they are on, but that isn’t the purpose of the pocket, so it was an unexpected bonus.  Within the pocket there is a mini pocket, small enough to fit a couple of coins in and stop them rumbling around in the large outer pocket.  Inside the pocket there is this statement:

“Your body is not the same all over.  You have lumps and bumps and hot bits and cool bits.  You’re not symmetrical like a ping pong ball. You have different sized limbs and muscles, each with their individual needs to be protected against the elements.  This is why we have developed 360 degree MAPPING, to position the most suitable technical fabrics around the body to maximise comfort and performance”

This says it all about ashmei as a company, they are completely athlete centric.  We, you, our comfort and performance come first to ashmei, it is one of the overriding reasons that I wanted to become part of their ambassador team.

Back to the shorts.  The outer layer is a mid length nylon/elastane blend, very light, with ‘breather’ strips down each side which are excellent for keeping things cool around that area.  The shorts fit excellently, they feel tight around the areas that they should, and they feel loose around the areas that need it.  As I said at the top of this blog, I wanted to wait for the rain, I wanted to see how they would perform in the wet.  I opted to stick on a waterproof jacket, an expensive waterproof jacket!  I wanted to compare the shorts to one of the leading brands of waterproof sports wear out there.  Of course I had the classic short sleeve t-shirt on underneath.  I don’t wear anything else these days.

So I went out for an 8 mile run, along the coast. It was lovely to be just running again, the freedom it provides.  Being out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, there is nobody around, all I could hear were the waves crashing onto the beach, the rain hitting the ground and the gulls squealing at each other. 

I had actually forgotten that the 2 in 1 shorts were waterproof.  As I unlocked the door to the house I looked down and noticed the beads of water on the shorts as they rolled down and off the shorts.  These particular shorts have been washed a number of times so it was reassuring to see that they were retaining their waterproofness.  In stark contrast the top brand waterproof jacket was socked through!!

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Water sitting in beads on top of outer layer of the shorts.

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And water soaking through the waterproof jacket.

The part that ashmei don’t advertise is the multiple use of the shorts.  The merino wool inner is wicking and anti-bacterial, so the sweat doesn’t stay in the garment, they can be used for a good few days before they need to be washed.  I was sceptical of this unknown fact, but it is very true.  I have two pairs of the shorts and once they have dried they go back into the drawer and washed once a week, saving a little on the washing machine electricity, not to mention the way overpriced washing liquid!

Typically of ashmei, the shorts look great too, a must for the vain types like me!!

Overall, stylish, will perform in all conditions, innovative design for both parts of the short and fantastic value for money.

Now, go out and buy some, you won’t regret it.

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Blood and the Endurance Athlete

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, have no medical training, other than Boys Brigade first aid in 1985, and I accept no responsibility for any nonsense you get up to on the back of what I am about to write.  Consider yourself warned, or disclaimed, or something.  I also have no affiliation with any company that I mention in this blog.

I recently had a full blood analysis carried out.  I’ve used Blue Horizon Medical in the past for various testing when I have been wanting to discover more about how my body works under pressure during heavy training and if there was any nutritional or functional (training/rest/recovery) changes I could make to improve or adapt.  I did this testing when I started to train for the ACP 2016 and half way through the training block.  I didn’t blog about it at the time, mainly because nothing came up in the blood panel, all looked normal at the time.

So it was a surprise to see a few red flags in the latest blood panel when my training has been somewhat subdued over the last 6-8 months.

The first and probably biggest red flag was below normal HCT (Haematocrit) and Haemoglobin.  For an endurance runner these are of particular importance as they constitute the oxygen carrying red blood cells that supply oxygen and other nutrients to the working muscles.  My HCT was 0.39 or 39% and Haemoglobin was 129 g/L (normal range is 130 – 170 according to the lab where the test was carried out).  You might think that they are just below normal and I have nothing to worry about.  That may well be true to your average Jocky MacJockface on the street. Considering the average Jocky has an HCT of 45% (source Wikipedia), 39% is a worrying number.   WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) have a limit on HCT of 50%, anything over that and you are suspected of doping with EPO.  I’ve also read that steroids can boost HCT too.

Over the years I have read many books about pro cycling.  Although not a cyclist, I am intrigued with the sport, love watching the grand tours, the one day classics etc.  It is fabulous to watch.  Its dark side has also had me captivated.  One thing that sticks in my mind is the micro dosing of EPO.  The reason they micro dosed was to ensure their HCT didn’t go above the WADA limit of 50%.  These guys already started with HCT levels of 43-48% and look at the performance gains they got from marginal increases.  Now imagine the exact opposite, the marginal decreases in HCT and the affect that has, and that is where I am right now!

Don’t worry, I am not about to purchase some Chinese EPO online and start stabbing a needle in my a$$ each day.  Needles don’t worry me, I’ve had plenty blood taken over the years and have my fair share of tattoos.  Apart from the moral implications of doping, the thought of actually having to jab myself makes me boak!

From what I understand, a low HCT with a low MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume) and a high RDW (Red cell Distribution Width) can be a sign of iron-deficient anaemia.   My readings for MCV was 83 fL and RDW of 14.2, these are on the boundary of what is considered low for MCV and high for RDW (again according to the lab’s thresholds).

Of course, this is all self diagnosis and that can be dangerous, but the basics are there to see, even with my limited understanding.   The numbers mean I could be slightly anaemic, possibly just a short term thing, maybe not.  There are other, more serious, reasons that could account for the values, but I am not concerning myself with those, because other than when I train, I feel ok.   What is puzzling me is that I do eat iron rich foods, heme iron and non heme iron, daily.  I take care to consume these iron sources with vitamin C sources to maximise absorption.  It’s nutrition 101.

Folate, B12 and Ferritin levels were all within the normal range, on the low side again, but still within that lab’s normal parameters.

So what’s the solution?  The solution I am going for is to supplement and make a few changes to diet.  Thorne Research do an iron supplement called Ferrasorb.  I’ve used Thorne products in the past and they are expensive, but they one of the best supplement companies and I am hoping this is short term.  Additional to that will be the recommencement of the consumtion of more organ meat, Mrs T will be delighted about that.  Liver, heart, kidney, even good quality black pudding will now need to feature weekly in my diet, I feel a few insta photos of some breakfasts coming up!!

[edit: first breakfast shot post writing]

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The remainder of the blood panel was looking quite favourable.  Cholesterol, HDL and Ratio (the important parts) were within range, as were vitamin D, Thyroid function, liver function, calcium and Uric Acid.  CRP or C-reactive Protein is a good marker of inflammation in the body and my levels were very low.  Meaning, general inflammation is also very low.  Could this mean I am over the injuries, or at least getting over them?

Overall, I think the testing has been worth it.  As endurance athletes we need to know what is going on endogenously as well as the exogenous results from training and racing.   There have been times in the past where I’ve been training hard and getting nowhere with progression, maybe a test like this could have thrown up the reason why there was not forward movement.

I plan to have another test (the same one) in 4-6 weeks, after I have given my body enough time to adjust to any changes in diet or supplementation.  My hope is that I can resolve the problems with food and avoid any medical intervention.

If you follow me in instagram or twitter or facebook you may have noticed that I have been spending a fair amount of time in the gym.

I am actually quite enjoying it.  When you are given a programme to work on, that you trust will fix all the broken bits, it makes it so worth while.  As I age (I’ll be 28 this year), this supplementary must be part of your running.  You can’t live life with regrets, but if I did have one it would that I started this additional work 10 years ago! (when I was 18).

In terms of running, I’ve been doing a little.  The foot injury appears to be on the mend apart from a flare up now and again, so I have to be careful with that.  Managing it to resolution is the key and I have a way forward for that.  The groin issues that I have had for about 18 months are markedly better, probably due to the gym work and the physio sessions I have had recently.  I can’t thank Ross at Space Clinics enough for the work they have done to put this old body back together. It was worth every penny and I would not hesitate to return should another problem crop up.

I’ve also had some initial chats with a coach (which reminds me I need to tell them what the latest situation is!!!), with the view to getting some expert advice on the way forward.  I don’t feel quite fit enough yet to get onto ‘the programme’ but I am hoping over the coming months that I can transition to their planning.  It will be a new departure for me and one I am quite excited about.

Until next time.

Ashmei Ambassador Day 2017

Big Day Ashmei

That was the twitter hashtag for the 2017 ashmei ambassador day (#bigdayashmei) and I had been one of the very lucky people to be invited down to their headquarters for a fun day of brand promotion and then self promotion!!  More on that later.  I started the day at 4:15am, awake long before my alarm was due to blare into my eardrums.  It was still dark outside and the birds were just starting up there morning singing.  I’d decided to cycle to the airport in an attempt to retain my fitness due to a little niggling foot injury.  It was an interesting 14 miles to the airport.  At that time of a Saturday morning the only evidence of civilization is taxis and a handful of ‘walks of shame’.  It give a glimpse of a post apocalyptic Edinburgh, in fact going through Niddrie and Craigmiller give you that at any time of the day or night!! The clubs and pubs were closed, the kebab houses were closed, even the 24 hour Tesco looked empty!  It was a superb ride, the roads were empty, all the traffic lights seemed to be in my favour and I made it to the airport in about 55 minutes, a lot less than I had anticipated.

The flight down was pretty uneventful, however, it was a huge plane, and full!!  A Boeing 767, seat configuration of 2-3-2 and about 35 rows, you do the maths!  It was a big beast and I wondered if the small Edinburgh runway had enough metres in it to get this colossal piece of steel off the ground when there was no prevailing westerly to charge into and give lift.  My uncertainty was answered when the Rolls Royce engines fired up and got us into the air in no time.  It was a beautiful morning in Edinburgh with the sun coming up over the snow capped Pentland hills.  It reminded me of the brilliant training runs I’ve had over the years in the Pentlands, Owain, @scottishrunner (ashmei ambassador extraordinaire and prolific blogger and tweeter) can testify to the beauty of running in the hills only a short hop from Edinburgh city centre.  It really is a fantastic place to live and run.  For such a small city there are trails and tracks all over, combining to make 100s of kms to explore or commute as I do.  I’m digressing a little here but a wee plug for this great city is alright, isn’t it?  We landed a little over the expected time and I headed straight for the car rental desk in the Sofotel Hotel.  There was a very, very long corridor to the car rental desk, all nice lighting giving a luxury feel to it.  However, they must have been pumping out air freshener into the corridor, as it stank like one of those awful car Magic Tree air fresheners.  I felt sick!!  I felt even sicker (is that a word) after the initial conversation at the car rental desk and I will just leave that story there for now. This is supposed to a happy, cheerful blog post.  Not raising the cortisol levels!!!  So in order to maintain my low levels of stress, you understand, keeping my blood below the boil point I’ll just refrain from going into any details.  Which is more to do with the impending litigation that is coming their way!!!!   By this time it is too late to go through the process of another car hire, it’s 9:15 and I am supposed to be in Aldbury in 15 minutes.  Black cab it is then!!!  £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££

Albury is in a beautiful part of the country just north of London.  It’s a small rural village about a half hour train journey from Euston station, close to Tring.  Tring is another small commuter town close by, but the train station at Tring has about 8 platforms and a massive park and ride car park.  The train station looks out of place, it might actually be bigger than Tring itself.

I arrive in Aldbury at 9:45, the Taxi driver booting it for me, and after much pound notes are exchanged, I find the ashmei HQ and arrive, fashionably late, but I do arrive, which at some point earlier, I had my reservations about.  Ashmei HQ is a converted stable, decorated modern inside with large bi-folding doors out into a courtyard.  Picturesque is the word that comes to mind.  The vintage Airstream  is parked outside.  The Airstream is the vehicle the company take to Expo’s and events, it is stylish, sleek and functional.  Exactly like the ethos of the company.

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Arriving late is never good, everyone else has already introduced themselves to everyone and made their new friendships.  However, I didn’t feel like an outsider here, everyone was very friendly, kindred spirits almost.  The other ambassador hopefuls were all just like me, passionate about their sport, willing to talk openly about themselves, their training, their gear and their aspirations.  I was like pig in sh*t.  Here I was, among about 20 other people who I genuinely felt I couldn’t bore with my inane running chat.  They wanted to hear my story, equally, I wanted to hear theirs.  I met some fantastic and charismatic people, be them ambassador hopefuls or already ambassadors or indeed the core ashmei team themselves.

It was fantastic to meet the team behind the ashmei brand, Stuart, Gary, Rob, Elliot, the girls and the 4 existing ambassadors helping out for the day were all very warm and welcoming.  The day started properly with Stuart, the company founder and owner, giving more details on the company history, his own background, what makes ashmei different to the others, the technology, the company ethos and mission.  I knew more than before, that I wanted to be part of this family.  I could see, in Stuart, the same passion in the ashmei products that I have for my sport.  What Stuart described was the reason I was here, he said that once you wear ashmei, it becomes your favourite, you wont wear anything else, you end up cherishing it.  I believe him.

Next up was Gary, the brand marketing guru.  Gary discussed the way ashmei like to be shown (look at this video ).  It epitomises the brand, performance, innovation, quality and style.  It’s it a fabulous piece of cinematography.  Gary didn’t make any claims about the video for himself, but I am sure he had a big hand in it’s production.  Gary showed us the old world media (newspapers, magazines etc) coverage the brand is now receiving, their recent very high rating in the GQ ‘must haves’ being of particular interest.  I can see that the online, or new world, marketing is where the company would like to explore and I can see that any ambassador would be central to that.  My own online presence can be sparse, more to do with time constraints, than having nothing to say.   I sometimes wonder how people manage to have such an big online presence, they must spend all day on the interwebs.   If I am to be lucky and selected as a brand ambassador, this will change.  I will make the time.  It’s not like I don’t enjoy it, making the video for the ambassador day (see here ) was a joy, a joy I never thought I would experience.  Completing that video and watching it through brought a real sense of achievement.  I am no Speilberg, but I can only improve and I know people who can help me with that.

Following Gary was Elliot, the lead designer.  What a job he has and I could feel his enthusiasm for ashmei.  After all, a lot of what I was wearing and looking at were, essentially, made by him.  That must be such a rush, to watch athletes perform at all levels in gear he has designed.  The clothing is designed athlete centric, they are manufactured around the athlete not a market demand.  ashmei bring products to the athlete, for the athlete, designed for the athlete, no extras, no gimmicks, no fuss.  Elliot showed us that right down to the miniscule details the decisions that are made in design and manufacturing are always done for the athlete first, the price point is of no concern until the very last step of bringing a product out.

It really was a fabulous insight into the company, I felt inspired and enthusiastic, at that point I knew what I wanted to do.  We were then given the bombshell that we were to give a 5 minute presentation on our journey, our story.  We’d heard the ashmei story, their journey, now it was over to us.  We would, in turn, be given a 5 minute slot in the Airstream to give our story in front of Stuart, Gary and an existing ambassador.

The group were split into cyclist and runners and while we headed out for a 10k run in the surrounding trails and hills, the cyclists would be giving their story in the airstream.  When we came back the cyclist would head out for a ride in the countryside while the runners gave their story.  The group was a real mix of people:  Young, not so young (me), tall, short (me again), triathletes, cyclists, runners (me yet again) and even a decathlete.  A decathlete who has Olympic aspirations, wow!!  Even though we were all essentially competing against each other, it didn’t feel like that and unlike a race where I want to win, I would gladly step aside to let any of the people I met win the ambassadorship.  All were worthy, all had their own story to tell and I wish them all the best of luck in the remainder of the process.

I haven’t mentioned Rob yet.  Rob is the head of sales.  My introduction to Rob was a little unusual.  When I arrived, I spoke to Lucy who, kind of, got me signed in and gave me a lovely pair of ashmei socks.  I then started chatting to a couple of other hopefuls and Rob leaned through and said, ‘Rob’ and shook my hand.  A little confused, I thought, how does he know my name, this is because I am late, they have all been talking about me, paranoia creeping in, but of course, DOH!, he was introducing himself.  What a div I can be sometimes.  Rob, Owain, Elliot and David lead the run from HQ and out onto the surrounding trails.  It was fabulous to be running again, my foot injury preventing me from doing much running these last few weeks.  David is an experienced ultra runner having completed some of the worlds toughest races.  It was good to chat with him, he has run a few races that are on my bucket list.  Chatting to Sam, Jo, Ed, Gemma, Sophie was easy and it turns out Sophie will be representing England at the Anglo Celtic Plate in Hull in May.  See ye there!  Rob wanted to hear what we were all about and made his way around all the runners in the group.  Then as Ed, Rob and I were running Ed asked Rob what his story was.  It resonated with me so much.  It’s not for me to tell it, but let’s just say we have a similar path to fitness and sport.  We arrive back to HQ after covering about 10k in the trails.  I miss the endorphine rush of running.  Hopefully not long before I get it coming every day again.

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Photo nicked from courtesy of Owain Williams @ScottishRunner

We enter the HQ building to be confronted by a sea of cake!!  Mostly homemade, all delicious, my cake value was taken off and I got stuck in, consuming close to my own body weight of Swedish home made apple and cinnamon slice!! Y – U – M!  I also indulge in a little retail therapy, well with such a big discount it would be rude not to….

The cyclist then head off for their ride and the runners are called, one by one, into the Airstream.  The guys who go first ease all our apprehensions. It’s just chat they say, nothing to worry about, but I hadn’t given it any thought while out on the run, too engrossed in chatting to the other runners.  Before long, and after yet more cake, it was my turn.  Owain was the original ambassador on the ‘panel’ but, quite rightly, stepped out and let David take his place when it was my turn.  It felt easy to talk to them, I generally am not one to blow my own trumpet, and I don’t think that is what they were looking for either.  However, I did mention the three thousand views of my application video J.  I am not sure that I got everything across well though, I felt a little nervous, and there were a few things that I wanted to say that I didn’t.  It’s like the job interview where you leave and immediately remember all the stuff you had in your head before you went in, but it slips to the back of your memory when you are there.  I think I did ok though, a little background on me, my aspirations for the future, my intensity of leaving no stone unturned when preparing for big races and my desire to test their fabulous kit in a Scottish Highland Winter and race over the world in it.

 

And then it was over. The day ended. I felt a little deflated when I left, I’d been on a high all day and now it was finished.  I had to leave sharp as I travelled back to Heathrow but train, underground and train.  Thanks again to Ed (see Ed’s work here) for taking me to Paddington.  It’s been a while since I have been in London and you forget quickly how to use the underground with any confidence and speed!  The flight home was uneventful and the ride back to the house was swift (downhill mostly).  I got home to a nice glass of wine and a debrief of the day to Lisa.

It was a wonderful day, having not experienced anything like it before, I’ll remember it.  And if I am not successful this year, there is always next year.  As for the clothing itself.  I amabsolutely sold.

#bigdayashmei

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Photo courtesy of ashmei

New Ventures


I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have been asked to become a 2017 ambassador for Xmiles.co.uk, the endurance sports store with a specialism in sports nutrition.  I love Anthony’s passion and approach to sports nutrition and this is shown in the vast choice of brands he stocks.  Brands like,

and many, many more at very competitive prices.    They also have products for the vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes out there and supply monthly endurance nutrition boxes.

I’m looking forward to using the products to fuel me through my training and racing in the coming year and hopefully beyond.

xmiles_webby

 

River Ayr Race 2016 (RAW) – Race Report

River Ayr Race – 17th Septmner 2016

The River Ayr Race is a small 40 mile mostly off road ultra from Glenbuck Loch to Dam Park Stadium in Ayr.  It attempts to follow the river Ayr from source to sea and claims to be the only Scottish ultra to do this.  I’d entered this race last year but after (yet another) bout of injury I’d had to pull out and considered doing the same this year given the summer of injury I’ve had this year!!  Is it just summer I am injured?  I must look back my training logs.

This race was always going to be a hard training run for me, I’d decided before the race that I needed to control pace and effort in an attempt to get my longest run since the ACP 100km under my belt.  With the next 100k at the end of November, I needed to get these long runs in and this race fitted perfectly with my training plan.

Nutrition, was as always, Tailwind #gotailwind, and I also had some flat coke for the last push.  As usual it worked out pretty well, I also had a couple of emergency gels that I actually just binned.  I don’t know why I continue to bother with gels.  Probably the convenience of having them, but I just don’t need any solid foods on these races.  Tailwind did the trick and I took on some extra sugar in the form of the coca cola in the last 5 miles and that was it.

Shoes:  I was trying out a newish pair of Adidas Boost Ravens.  They came with those silly lock laces and they were cut off straight away, but I struggled to find sports laces that would fit them.  I eventually opted for a pair of black ‘business shoes’ laces.  They were thin enough to fit through the rigid plastic eyelets of the shoes.  All in all, great shoes, but I am losing a toenail and my feet were pretty sore afterwards, so the long distance off road shoe discovery continues.

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Photo from Sandra Hunter

The race starts after a short brief from the race director and Rob Souter, a relay runner, 2 other lads and myself set the early pace.  Running at 6:30-6:50 pace this early on was, on hindsight, not a good idea.  The relay runner pulls away after about 2 miles and I pull off the little group about 5 miles into the race eventually catching the relay runner about 9 or 10 miles in.  I go through 20 miles in a little under 2:20 with second place not that far behind me.  On exiting Failford, around 25 miles, I miss a set of stairs and continue straight on, only realising when the trail comes to an end that I had gone the wrong way.  So I turn around and head back to the steps only to see David coming around the corner and heading up the steps.  I think this should be good to have some company for a bit and I start to climb the stairs. TWANG, sudden sharp and excruciating pain on the inside right thigh.  I couldn’t actually lift my leg to the next step.  To be fair to David he asked if I was ok.  I said it was cramp and would need stretched out, but this wasn’t cramp.  This felt like a muscle tear, it took all my energy not to scream out.  I hobble to the top of the steps and try to walk on flat ground, but it wasn’t for shifting.  I wonder how far the next checkpoint is and how I will get back to Ayr, but then, suddenly it disappears.  No reason, no stretching, nothing, it goes as quick as it appeared and I am able to start jogging.  The last mile was over 10 minutes so I know I’ve lost a bit of time on David.  As I leave the river bank to run across a field towards a short tarmac section I can see David at the top of the hill, I work out he is about 3 minutes ahead of me and so I see what I can do to catch him up.  A little time after that, I make another wrong turn and after some deliberation find the correct path and another 10 minute mile I decide that the win was probably not on the cards.  David knew the course having run it previously, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to keep him in sight.  However, even a minute is not enough to keep someone in sight on this course, it is so up and down, thick undergrowth and lots of sharp right and left hand turns.  Then another mistake at Stair, ironically, I miss a set of Stairs and end up crawling over some landslide, nearly falling into the river then thinking this can’t be right and head back the way.  I can’t find another way, so go back over the landslide and nearly falling into the river again and another 10 minute mile gets clocked.  Any attempt at a win has just faded and I settle in for the run home.

I pick up my drop back at the last CP and headed for the finish.  I knew I would finish, the pain of the Sartorius muscle a distant memory, just the pain of ultra running to contend with now.  There was a small water stop with about 4-5 miles to go and I should have asked how far ahead the leader was there, because a) David was struggling (unbeknown to me of course) and b) I felt really good.  I didn’t ask, but I did increase the pace down to 7 minute miles or under when the terrain allowed it.  A strong finish was as good as any and as I reached Ayr, I felt like I could keep on running.  The last mile of the race is along the river bank in a park and to get into the stadium you have to run, on a path, down the length of the back straight of the running track, on the outside of the stadium.  You can see into the track through the fence and there, on the final 100m of the track, was David hobbling across the finish line.  I crossed the finish line less than 2 minutes behind him having made back probably about 5-6 minutes in the last 4-5 miles or so!!!  Don’t get me wrong, David ran a great race, and suffered a bit on the last few miles with cramp, but had I known I was so close I am sure I could have closed that gap down a little more.  Would I have won?  I doubt it, 2 minutes is a lot of time to make up in 4-5 miles after running 35 miles.  However, it would have been fun to try.

I settled in this race, eased back knowing that the win wasn’t on and while it wasn’t really a target race, a win is a win.  I learn something about myself on every single ultra I have ran, be that something positive or negative.  In this case I settled for second place, but that won’t happen again.  I won’t settle for anything, I will keep pushing as hard as my body will allow me to.  You just don’t know what is going on ahead of you.

Results Men:

1st David Mclure 4:57:30

2nd Robert Turner 4:29:21

3rd Stuart Murdoch 5:10:57

Results Women:

1st Morgan Windram-Geddes  5:55:01

2nd Angela Reid 5:55:47 (close race that)

3rd Iona Mackay 7:03:21

 

River Ayr Race 2016 Results

The River Ayr Race is a fabulous little ultra, brilliant organisation (although a few more signs would have been prefect) and a fantastic route.  It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Scottish ultra and I would recommend it to anyone.  The route takes you through some lovely little towns, including Sorn.  Sorn brings back memories of me as a 15 year old, running the 4 mile Sorn Chase.  I’ll need to look back the Lanark Gazette cut outs my Mum kept, but I think I ran (and won the under 16s) in a little under 22 minutes. Makes me quite chuffed that nearly 30 years later (and a very long running sabbatical) that I am a little quicker than that now.  It would be quite something to be able to say the same in another 30 years time…..Check back here on 1st October, 2046 🙂

 

Adidas Ultra Boost / ST

To Say I love Adidas Ultra Boost shoes would be an understatement.  In my opinion these are the best running Shoes Adidas have ever made, particularly for the ultramarathon market.  I’ve used many Adidas shoes over the years, but when the first Boost models started to appear and switched to them very quickly.  I’ve always preferred the bouncier ride, when you clock up the miles I do, the extra cushioning really helps.  I am not about to go down the rabbit hole of minimalist v over cushioned shoes, because I wear shoes from both camps and everything else between.  This is where I would put the Ultra Boosts. They may be verging on the over cushioned, but the level of Boost material is nowhere near that of a Hoka Clifton, or Altra Olympus.  As soon as I put on a new pair of Ultra Boosts I feel my feet are at home.  Maybe not so much the ST model (more on them later), but the standard Ultra Boosts feel like big slippers.  I normally have to go up a half size in Adidas Shoes, so I would recommend always trying before buying.

So my size 8.5 UK are around 300g in weight, not the light racing flats, but not the heaviest of cushioned running shoes either.  The upper is soft and allows your foot to expand into the toe box (an absolute priority if you ask me).  The toe box itself is wide, I need the width and the lacing is very easily adjustable, like you would expect.  Shoes that squash together your toes when running are going to cause you all sorts of problems. Issues like toes rubbing, causing blisters, toenail issues to name a few.  A running shoe should allow your foot to spread out in impact, let it do what it was designed to do.

The impact is soft but you get enough feedback from the ground.  Over tarmac these shoes are in their element, on groomed trails they function well, but they are not off road shoes.  The grip on the sole will not stop you slipping and sliding on the ascents and descents. To be fair to Adidas, they don’t advertise this shoe that way, but if you are running on mixed terrain, I would opt for another shoe.  They can also be a little slippy in wet conditions, which is a little disappointing living in Scotland!

Their range is good, I often get around 800-1000 miles on each pair before the rubber is worn through to the midsole.  By that point the bounce from the Boost material is also significantly less.  I am on my 6th pair of these shoes now and I wore these bright yellow pair when I won the Scottish 100km Championships in April.

Now, the ST model.  I like to rotate shoes, normally depending on terrain or distance, but I always like to keep two pairs of my standard everyday road shoes.  However, I could not get another pair of the Ultra Boosts at the time, so I opted for the ST model.  This mean Stability.  I have never ran in stability shoes and if I am honest thought the whole stability/motion control thing was a bit snake oil.  I am happy to be proven wrong on this, so if anyone has peer reviewed clinical studies on stability or motion control shoes protecting you from injury I am all ears….or eyes.  Anyway, I start to wear the ST model and within a couple of days I develop a bit of plantar pain.  Nothing that a good going over with the B*stard ball doesn’t fix, but each time I wear them now, I get the same problem.  I don’t get plantar problems with the standard model, so maybe there is something to motion control shoes.  The jury, for me, is still out.

Overall, the Ultra Boosts are a great pair of running shoes.  Pricey when new at around £130 RRP, but there are always deals on the older models around.  I hope they don’t change them too much on subsequent models over the coming years and they are perfect just the way they are.